Climate change and plastics pollution both represent a significant threat to the health of the planet’s ecosystems, and the two are inextricably linked. With only 6% of new plastics made from recycled material, this link begins at the very start of the lifecycle of plastics.
The remaining 94% of plastics come from virgin materials, of which the majority is sourced from the petrochemical industry. Plastic production is responsible for around a sixth of the world’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions and uses 14% of all oil produced each year.
Every kilogram of plastic produced is responsible for around 4.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide across its entire lifetime. With the average European throwing away around 114 kilograms of plastic every year, this equates to around the same emissions as flying from London, UK to Cairo, Egypt.
Most of this plastic is thrown into landfill, with just 9% recycled each year. 19% is incinerated, adding further to global carbon dioxide emissions, and in the USA, more than six times as much plastic is burnt than recycled.
Climate change, meanwhile, also impacts on plastic pollution. Rising global temperatures are linked to more extreme weather events, which can exacerbate the spread of plastic around the world.
Heat can also cause plastics to break apart more rapidly, which accelerates the creation of micro- and nanoplastics. These minute plastic particles have been linked with a variety of health impacts in animals, including changes in seabird blood chemistry, carrying disease-causing microbes, and affecting the development of young mammals.